I began authoring this story as a screenplay many years ago, from a creative writing assignment in college.
Pine Springs seemed eerily quiet compared to the hustle of prison life the day Kevin returned to his hometown. A city worker stood on a ladder next to a light pole installing Easter decorations. The passenger bus came into view at the far end of Main Street, which ran through the center of town. The worker waved to the bus as it approached, and the driver honked as he passed by. The bus continued onward toward the other end of Main Street where the Texaco gas station sat.
Two old timers, who spent most of each day sitting on a bench in front of the station, sat talking together as the bus slowed down on approach. Pop Thompson was showing his age, with an immense belly from too many soda pops and chicken-fried steaks. Frank Wilson appeared even older, but gaunt as well, surviving two rounds of cancer from years of pipe smoking and oil changes.
Frank Wilson, hardly aware of the bus, spoke with laughter in his voice “…so that old mare reared back and kicked Old Buck in the mouth! Hee hee hee.”
Pop Thompson watched the bus roll to a stop. There was a gleam of mischief in his eyes. “Do you want to see if there are any pretty young women on that bus?”
Frank Wilson gave a hopeful glance to the bus and added with a hint of sarcasm. “We should be so lucky! The last time I ever saw a pretty woman get off that bus nearly gave me a heart attack! It was back in ’83. Had five little house apes trailing behind her. I sure don’t need any more of those snot-nosed leg clingers hanging around my place. It’s bad enough when DeeDee comes out for the summer!”
Pop Thompson snorted disapproval. “Kids aren’t so bad if you get your bluff in on them early.” He stopped short when he noticed Kevin stepping off the bus. “I will be damned!”
“Where is she?” Frank Wilson searched for the woman with curiosity.
Pop Thompson strained his eyes to be sure. “It’s not a ‘she’… Do you remember that trial about ten or eleven years ago… The Fletcher boy?”
Frank Wilson frowned at a lost memory. “Which one was that?”
“It was the one involving the death of that Emmerson boy!” Pop Thompson answered with irritable impatience.
“Oh hell! Who could forget that one?” Frank Wilson added with pained exasperation. “But the kid’s name was Murchison…not Emmerson.”
Pop Thompson dismissed his own mistake. “That’s what I said! Anyway, there is the murderer stepping off the bus right now!
Frank Wilson offered a disgruntled spit into the dirt. “Damned!”
Kevin walked up to the two men, unsure of their acceptance. Of all things he expected to remain the same, he knew that the old pair of gray-haired mechanics would be sitting on the same bench he had first met them sixteen or seventeen years before. As he walked up to the station, and the two old men, he started to smile as if meeting two old friends from a bygone era.
It was late in the summer of Kevin’s tenth year. He enjoyed the work of many American boys, delivering newspapers through town from his bicycle. Frank Wilson and Pops Thompson were sitting on the bench in front of the gas station when he approached the intersection. He was an energetic child, full of happiness and life. He glanced at a barking dog as he neared the station and did not notice the car rapidly approaching an intersection with Main Street.
The driver did not even try to brake to a stop before entering Kevin’s lane. The boy heard the car’s motor barely a second before it was too late. He screamed in terror just as the car swerved to avoid hitting him and lost control of his bicycle. He took a nasty spill in front of the station.
The driver honked his horn in anger and stopped just long enough to be sure he did not kill the boy. “Stupid brat! Why don’t you watch where you’re going?” He shook his fist at Kevin, and then drove away before someone could discover who he was.
Frank Wilson and Pops Thompson rushed over to help the boy stand up. Kevin tried not to cry, but his knees were scraped, and bleeding, and he was sobbing.
Pop Thompson made an angry gesture at the fleeing car. “Why don’t you slow down?”
Frank Wilson began to look after Kevin, much like a grandfather would. “Are you hurt bad, young man?”
Kevin quickly tried to hide his escaping tears as he gasped out, “I-I didn’t mean to ride in front of him.”
Pop Thompson spoke with compassion toward Kevin, “It wasn’t your fault, Kevin,” then directed his anger at the driver, “That bastard is going to kill somebody one of these days.”
“Oh, no!” Kevin’s despair amplified when he surveyed the mess of newspapers scattered all over the sidewalk. “Mr. Walters is going to be mad at me!”
Pop Thompson gently eased the boy up to his feet. “I will give him a call and explain what happened. Come sit on the bench and let us have a look at those knees.”
Frank Wilson placed a comforting arm around Kevin’s shoulders. “Are you sure you didn’t break anything?”
Kevin relished the attention. “I don’t think so. My knees hurt,” he faltered at sight of his own blood and started to cry, “and so does my elbow.”
When they reached the bench, Frank Wilson helped Kevin sit up on it. “There, there young man. We will have you fixed up in no time.”
Frank Wilson left the boy and entered the gas station to retrieve something from the first aid kit. Kevin watched as Pop Thompson gathered up the newspapers and then picked up the bicycle, looking it over for any sign of damage.
“Good, sturdy bike you have here.” Pop Thompson said with admiration as he dropped the kickstand.
Kevin wiped his eyes. “I bought it last year with my allowance that I saved for eight whole months.”
Pop Thompson whistled through his teeth. “I bet that was hard for you to do.”
“Yes, sir.” Kevin sniffled.
“There isn’t a scratch on her.” Pop Thompson admired.
Frank Wilson exited the store with a handful of items. “Here we go. I have some washcloths and iodine. This is going to sting a little, but we have to make sure there is no dirt inside those scrapes.”
Pop Thompson fished for change in his pocket. “I’ll be right back.”
Frank Wilson knelt in front of the boy and started tending to the wounds. Pop Thompson went inside the store. Kevin grimaced in pain as the elderly mechanic lifted his elbow to clean it. His initial fear began to subside into curiosity about the bottle of iodine.
“What is that stuff?” Kevin asked.
Frank Wilson lifted the bottle up and spoke with an air of mystery. “This, my fine young man, is a magic elixir guaranteed to speed healing and keep away those mean old nasty germs.”
Kevin’s curiosity helped him to forget his troubles. “What is in it?”
“Monkey blood.” Frank Wilson replied as a matter of fact.
“No way!” Kevin almost believed the old man. “For real?”
Pop Thompson stepped out with an orange soda in hand. “Believe what he is telling you, son. My Momma used monkey blood on my scrapes and cuts all the time when I was growing up. I never got an infection.”
“Will it sting?” Kevin asked with increasing trepidation.
Frank Wilson opened the medicine bottle. “Just a little…but I will be really easy.”
Pop Thompson offered some helpful advice. “If you blow on it, it will help the sting go away.”
Kevin braced for the worst and grimaced as Frank Wilson applied the medicine. He then began to relax when the pain was not so bad. He started blowing on his elbow and then his knees. Pop Thompson opened the bottle of soda and gave it to the boy.
“Here you go, young man.” Pop Thompson offered a sympathetic smile.
Kevin glanced from one man to the other with genuine appreciation. “Thank you, Mr. Thompson and Mr. Wilson.” He took two gulps of the soda. “I have to get back to work, now.”
Kevin got up and went to his bike. Frank Wilson rose to stand by the other ancient mechanic, who had picked up the newspaper bag. Pop Thompson helped the boy shoulder the bag while Frank Wilson held the bicycle steady for the boy to get back on safely.
“I already called Mr. Walters and explained to him what happened.” Frank Wilson said. “He was worried you might have been hurt.”
Kevin smiled at the two elderly men, as he was getting ready to ride away. “Thank you, again.”
“Keep up the good, hard work, son,” Pops Thompson complimented with a bit of encouraging, “and you’ll turn out to be a fine young man one day.”
“I’ll see you, tomorrow.” Kevin smiled in appreciation as he waved to the two men. They both wave to him and smile in admiration.
Pop Thompson and Frank Wilson’s smiles of admiration melted away into frowns of disgust as they gazed upon Kevin. The young man’s apprehensive smile quickly disappeared when he realized he was no longer welcome in their presence. Frank Wilson only glared at Kevin as he spat at the ground.
“How long are you going to be in town?” Pop Thompson asked with unsympathetic scorn.
Kevin felt discouraged by their reception. “Not long.”
Pop Thompson concluded their reunion with a hateful, gruff, “Good!” He spat on the exclamation, green phlegm mixed with brown tobacco juice landing with a wet plop near Kevin's feet.
Frank Wilson’s eyes narrowed as he spat again and motioned for Pop Thompson to leave with him. Kevin watched them for a moment as one of his last happy childhood memories fell away into oblivion. The bus was leaving, and he let out a wistful, mournful sigh as he turned to walk away from the station.
Kevin started up Main Street going toward the square. He wandered a sluggish pace through town, passing in front of a row of shops. He followed the sidewalk with grim determination, nodding to some people as he went. He was careful to avoid any close contact and give anyone time to recognize him.
Kevin would have continued to trudge to the cemetery if he had not noticed the 1968 Ford Mustang. The car belonged to someone who lived somewhere out of town on an old dirt road. Dried red mud and a fine coating of red dust coated the bottom half of the car. One of the back-quarter windows was missing, and the front windshield, hazed over from a pipe smoker, had a huge spider web fracture on the passenger side. The young man’s attention focused intently on the Mustang as he approached closer to the car. Within his mind, he heard the revving of a fine-tuned engine.
Robbie, as excited as any 15-year-old boy sitting in a muscle car for the first time, exclaimed: "Man, oh man! Your car sounds awesome, Kevin! I bet she could kick Brian Thompson’s Camaro easy!”
Kevin heard the engine spinning louder and tires burning as one car raced against the other. He stretched out to the hood of the car admiringly and touched it. Just as he made contact, the sound of a horrible wreck surprised him. Robbie screamed out in agony and then suddenly fell silent. Kevin recoiled from shock from the car. Admiration turned to guilt and terror.
A woman, who had just dropped an envelope inside a mailbox, noticed that Kevin appeared to be in trouble. “Young man, is there something wrong? Are you okay?” She asked with concern.
A store-owner also noticed the commotion outside of his shop. He started wiping his glasses as he approached the doorway. He came out of the store, squinting from one person to the other. He put his glasses on before he recognized Kevin.
“Oh, my God! It is Kevin Fletcher. I thought we’d never see you in this town again.”
Kevin was in such shock-guilt-grief that he could not reply to either person. He only shook his head and backed away in haste, walking away as quickly as he could. He needed to get to the cemetery. After that, then he could leave Pine Springs unhindered.
At the cemetery, Kevin stood over the grave of Carla Fletcher. He knelt to put his hand on the gravestone in a manner to convey his love. He began to cry as the loss started to overwhelm him. He struggled to maintain control but suddenly had insufficient strength. He traced her name with his fingers as he laid a single, stolen rose over her grave.
“Momma… I miss you.”
Carla Fletcher waited with anxiety on the front porch swing, watching as children of various ages sauntered home from school. The children passed by the gate at the end of her front lawn. Robbie and Kevin came into her view from around the large rose bush at the far corner of her yard. The flowers scented the air with their delicate aroma. The two little boys played a game of tag as they walked home from school. Robbie lived on another block but spent many of his afternoons at the home of the Fletcher’s. It was evident that the boys were close friends. When Kevin caught sight of Carla waiting for him, he stopped playing with Robbie and passed happily through the gate.
“Momma! Momma! Guess what we did in class today!” Kevin asked with full excitement.
Robbie was mannerly when he entered the yard. “Hello, Mrs. Fletcher.”
Carla stood up to welcome her son. “Hello, Robbie. How is your mother doing?” she called out.
“Fine.” Robbie had an apparent crush on Mrs. Fletcher as he turned red in the face when she addressed him.
Kevin turned to wave goodbye to Robbie and tripped backward over his own feet. His books flew everywhere, and he fell on his rump. Carla swallowed a mother’s chuckle at a whimsical action her child had done, then realized he was about to cry. She knew it was not an emergency, but she still hurried to reach him before he started crying. Robbie went into the yard to help Kevin pick up all his books. Kevin stood up to his feet, aided by Carla, and clung to her for emotional support as he started whining.
Robbie showed genuine concern for Kevin. “I will carry the books up to the porch for you.”
“That is kind of you, Robbie.” Carla smiled.
The three of them walked up to the porch. Robbie trailed behind like an obedient puppy. Carla and Kevin sat in the swing together.
Robbie set the books down. “Is he okay?”
Carla continued to comfort Kevin. “I think it scared him more than anything else. He will be fine.”
Robbie turned to Kevin. “I have to go now, Kevin. I will meet you at the cub scout meeting tonight.”
Kevin was already calming down. “Bye.”
After Robbie turned to leave, Kevin snuggled up as he continued to lap up the attention Carla garnished upon him. She hugged him protectively. Robbie exited through the gate.
Carla looked for something to divert Kevin’s attention away from his slight injuries. “What did you do today?”
“We got to play with frogs in Miss Phillips’ class.” Kevin brightened somewhat.
Carla feigned surprise. “Frogs!”
Kevin sat up straight with renewed enthusiasm. “If I find one in our yard, can I keep him?”
Carla rolled her eyes. “I don’t know…”
Kevin tried to plead his case. “They are not slimy or anything.”
Carla downplayed her distaste. “I know that!”
“Miss Phillips says they catches and eats flies…lots of them!” Kevin said with playful, fiendish glee.
Carla patted him on the head. “If you find one, you can keep it in the old fish tank. I don’t want it running loose in the house.”
Kevin spoke as seriously as any seven-year-old could be. “They don’t run, Momma… They hop!”
Carla knew that she was going to regret permitting him to have a frog. “Run…hop…whatever they do. You can have one if you keep it put up.”
Young Kevin was over-joyed. “Thanks, Momma! You’re the best Momma in the whole wide world!”
Kevin kissed Carla with a flourish and then got up to go off and hunt in the yard for a frog. She turned in the swing so that she could watch him. As she watched her little boy play, she was contented, but it did not last forever.
Forward in the past
Almost nine years later, Carla's expression filled with utter grief. She watched Kevin, barely sixteen years old, as he stood terrified before Judge Patterson and in tears. Paul was emotionless beside her, hiding his own pain. The courtroom was crowded to standing-room-only. The overworked air conditioner did little to lower the atmosphere to a comfortable level and everyone, including the boy, sweated profusely. Carla wanted to go and comfort her youngest child to shelter him from the coming storm. She ventured to look back and sensed all the hostile stares from the town people in return. She turned back as the jury filed in.
Judge Patterson held nothing but emotionless scorn toward Kevin. “I have spent much time these last few days deliberating upon a form of punishment suitable to the crime of which you have been convicted.”
Judge Patterson paused to gauge Kevin’s reaction. The boy trembled as he awaited his sentencing, already determined guilty of manslaughter by the jury. Carla fought a losing battle to control her emotions. Paul steeled himself for the sentencing phase.
Judge Patterson offered a slight hint of reluctance in his otherwise tough stance. “In the past ten years on this bench, I have seen many offenders, old as well as young, pass through with nothing more than a reprimand. Often, I have seen them go on to commit even greater offenses, sometimes even taking the life of another human being. I have taken into consideration your age and the fact that this is your first offense. However, I also must acknowledge the serious nature of that offense…taking the life of Robbie Murchison while driving under the influence of alcohol.” He paused to look around the courtroom and then back to Kevin. “Kevin Andrew Fletcher… You have been deemed competent by the State of Texas to stand trial as an adult… You have been convicted of involuntary manslaughter in the death of Robbie Murchison.”
Kevin started crying at the mention of Robbie’s name. Carla, no longer able to hold her emotions in, fell against his older brother Mark, who had to put his arm around her to help her. Paul drew in a conservative breath. Kevin could not help glancing at Robert and Judy Murchison, Robbie’s parents, who sat stone silent with grief. He wanted so desperately to tell them how sorry he was, but the judge was stern and allowed no sort of disruption in his court.
Judge Patterson took an emotionless tone in admonishing Kevin. “What you did has cut this town to its heart. Robbie Murchison’s life ended the night you killed him in a car wreck. I still do not think you fully realize what you have done. Not only have you taken the life of a child away from his mother, but you’ve also forced me to take away another child from his mother.”
Kevin gazed at Carla with painful longing. He hated himself for the pain he caused her. Both broke down into an emotional chasm. He looked to the Murchison’s who collapsed under their own grief. Paul forced himself to look away from everyone. He had to keep control over his own emotions and offered nothing with which to console Kevin. Mark tried to hug Carla and draw her attention away from Kevin, but she did not allow herself to be pulled away.
Judge Patterson seemed hesitant as he continued. “Although I have taken into account your age and what I hope is genuine remorse for taking the life of your best friend… I’m also mindful of the growing problem of teenage drinking and driving. By handing down this sentence, I hope to dissuade at least one other young man from making the same grievous mistake you have made… Therefore, I sentence you to no less than ten years in a federal penitentiary…to commence immediately following these proceedings. This court is adjourned.”
At the sound of the gavel, Carla finally lost control and tried to make her way to Kevin, who the bailiff handcuffed. A tremendous cheer erupted from the courtroom, and some people hurled disgruntled shouts at the boy. Paul struggled to remain oblivious while their attorney, Bill Hartson, offered condolences to the family.
Carla shrugged forcibly away from Mark and rushed toward Kevin to hug him one last time. The bailiff only allowed a moment before he had to take the boy away. Kevin kept his attention on Carla until Judy Murchison approached to support her when she could no longer stand up under her grief.
Paul stopped the truck near the cemetery and watched Kevin for several minutes. His hair had grayed considerably as it had also thinned over the last few years. He had tried to reach the Texaco in time for the arrival of the Greyhound, but the old Dodge refused to wake up so early. Deep lines of tortured worry scarred his once-proud eyes. He knew that the cemetery would be the first place his youngest son would have visited. Gathering courage against the unknown, he stepped out of the truck.
Kevin cried as he touched the headstone. He had not been able to get out of prison for his mother’s funeral. He felt cheated out of the last years of her life and desperately wanted to see her face one last time. He was aware of the man standing behind him even before Paul made his presence known.
Paul stepped up beside Kevin, “Hello, son.” His face appeared haggard and forlorn.
“Why are you here?” Kevin remained to kneel at his mother’s grave, but his grief tears slowly turned to resentful anger.
It was clear Paul wanted to reconcile with his son. “I knew you would come to see her first.”
Kevin’s hand fondly touched Carla’s name. “I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye.”
Paul’s voice softened. “I miss her, too.”
“Why are you here?” Kevin asked again with deepening anger.
Paul was afraid to show any weakness. “I could not wait to see you.”
“What?” Appalled, Kevin turned in anger upon his father. “How can you say that?”
Paul struggled with his emotions. He felt like he deserved Kevin’s anger. “I… I don’t know… There have been many mistakes…terrible choices…”
Kevin stood up with his fists clenched to keep his anger in check. “You helped them send me to prison!”
Paul backed up a step. “I have had much thinking to…”
“What did you have to think about?” Kevin struggled to keep his anger from rising out of control, but he also needed to vent. “I was just a kid when I went through those prison gates ten years ago!”
Paul was near his breaking point. “Look, son. I did what I…”
Kevin was on the verge of tears. “I’m not your son! You turned your back on me just like everyone else did in this town! You don’t dare call me 'son'!”
Paul realized then that he had to back away. He appeared genuinely hurt over Kevin’s words as he took a seat on a nearby bench. He drew in a deep sigh and then gazed upon his son with a vague understanding of the anger the young man threw at him. Kevin had been saving up for that day when he would have the power to say goodbye to his former life on his own and punish his father emotionally for deserting him long before.
Paul sat defensive. “At the time, it seemed like the right thing to do. I had no idea that the judge would be so harsh or what would happen to your mother. Carla was never the same after they took you away.”
“You never even came to see me, except when Momma made you come,” Kevin accused with hot, angry words. “Then you just stood off and never said a word to me.”
With desperate anxiety, Paul wanted to put the past behind them. “Kevin… I was hoping that we could have a man to man talk. I know you’re bitter.”
“I have every reason to be bitter!” Kevin spoke harsh and relentless. “You and Mark went on to live your life with Momma and left me behind to rot in that prison.”
Paul raised his hands in desperation. “It screwed up our lives just as terrible as it did yours.”
“You could have acknowledged me during the trial,” Kevin said with bitter contempt. “You didn’t even say goodbye.”
Paul’s spirit was broken. “I could not…”
Kevin eased his attack as he turned back to the headstone. “Momma was all that kept me going. She was all I had left.”
“I miss her, too,” Paul said with remorse. “Your mother had hoped that we would be able to forgive each other and work out the past.”
Kevin spoke with quiet finality. “That will not happen.”
Paul stood up and wanted to say something else, but both men were at a loss for words now. Paul watched as the last chance at redemption died. Kevin suppressed his hurt and replaced it with a stronger emotion of anger.
After a brief pause, Kevin spoke again to his father with emotionless words. “You will not have to worry about me hanging around for long.”
Paul was at a loss as to how to salvage their relationship. “What are you going to do now?”
Kevin shook as his anger ebbed and was somewhat relieved. “A friend of mine who got out six months ago has an apartment up in Oklahoma City. He said he would put me up for a couple of months until I can get on my feet.”
“You could stay here.” Paul grasped for anything that would reach out to Kevin. “It’s hard for anyone just out of prison to get an honest, decent job.
Kevin tried to ignore a remote feeling of remorse. “I will make do. I can find work.”
Paul made a last desperate plea. “Please stay, Kevin. I promised Carla that I would help make things right for you.”
Kevin’s eyes narrowed with suspicious anger. “So that is what it’s all about! You want to ease your own guilty conscience!”
Paul shook his head in defense. “That is not it, not entirely.”
“I will call from Oklahoma City when I get settled in. You can send my belongings there.” Kevin was colder than before. “After that, I don’t care what you do except leave me alone. That seems to be what you’re really good at.” He started walking away in resentment.
Paul reached out to catch his son but missed his shoulder. “Kevin!” He stood dumbfounded as he watched the young man walk away.
Kevin was unable to keep his hurt from his father, and his face twisted with emotional pain. Paul held out his arm for a bit longer in the hope that his son would turn around. Crushed with a broken spirit, the father turned to Carla’s grave and collapsed to his knees. He rubbed his left arm absently as he began to sob.
After leaving his father alone in the cemetery, Kevin wandered through town at an even slower pace than before. He approached an intersection that cornered around the grounds of First Baptist Church of Pine Springs. Distant memories haunted his mind as he gazed upon the imposing sanctuary prominently set on the corner. In his mind, he heard a church bell ringing to draw worshipers to service. The steps and walkways extended in both directions as if to welcome all from every social class. He walked up to the porch steps leading into the church and looked up at the steeple.
Brother Wayne Brewster approached Kevin from an opposite sidewalk behind him. The young man did not notice the pastor at first, who studied Kevin briefly. The preacher realized that the young man was distraught and searched his instincts for the best approach.
“It’s a wonderful old building.” Brother Wayne announced his presence in a gentle and unimposing manner. “God blessed her with solid wood and a stout frame.”
If alarmed by the sudden intrusion into his quiet reminiscing, Kevin did not show it as he smiled at a memory. “It was stout enough to weather a tornado.” He turned to see a short man with a bald halo on top of his ruddy brown hair.
Brother Wayne stepped into Kevin’s line of sight in a friendly manner. “That was before I ever came to town. Were you here during that storm?”
Although Kevin was surprised, he was pleased someone was not offended by his presence. “I was eight years old…the last night of vacation bible school, a terrible storm came through. Brother Jamie had all of us kids down in the cellar. We lost part of the roof. Brother Jamie said that part was already rotting and leaking. God wanted to help our church along. Did you know Brother Jamie?”
“We went to seminary together.”
Kevin watched for a chance to leave. “I guess everything in town has changed…except for this venerable church.”
Brother Wayne hoped to keep Kevin a little longer. “You’re Kevin Fletcher. James told me that you might come by today.” He offered a handshake. “Wayne Kinman. I’m the pastor now.”
Kevin was wary as he shook the offered hand. “I guess you’ve already heard about me, then.”
Brother Wayne offered no sign of backing away. “James told me everything about you. He is still proud of you. You know he left town right after they convicted you?”
Kevin hid his surprise under a mask of rebellion. “So, you already know that I murdered my best friend.”
Brother Wayne flinched under Kevin’s harsh tone. “James and I both saw it as an accident…nothing more.”
Kevin was unable to hide his suspicion. “The fact that I’m an ex-con does not bother you?”
Brother Wayne offered a genuine smile. “I deal with people from all levels of society…some of them guilty of much greater sins than yours. God has given me the gift…and sometimes the curse…of being able to understand past their transgressions into their hearts.”
Kevin felt a deep-seated need to shore up the wall he had put around himself. “Brother Jamie knew me once…but that part of me died with Robbie ten years ago.”
Brother Wayne shook his head wisely. “I hope you’re wrong. Maybe that part of you has gone into hiding, and you need to find him. With God, anything is possible.”
“I don’t think so.” Kevin looked at the church and then started to back away. “God turned His back on me just as this town did.”
Brother Wayne knew he was losing a chance with Kevin. “I know you’ve already heard this before…but God never closes a door without opening a window.”
Kevin backed further away. “Look… I appreciate your concern for me, but you’re wasting your breath. I am not worth it. My life in this town ended ten years ago. All I want to do is get out and forget it ever exists.”
“I hope you don’t mind, then that I pray for you, Kevin?” Brother Wayne conceded kindly.
Kevin felt bewildered by Brother Wayne’s compassion. “Suit yourself…but I’m telling you it does not matter.”
Brother Wayne offered the last bit of kindness toward the young man. “I hope you find what you’re looking for.”
Kevin turned and walked away. Brother Wayne went up the steps of the church. He stopped just at the door to look after the young man before entering. Kevin hurried across the street and away from the church.
Kevin walked up to the teller window at the gas station and tapped on the glass. As he waited, he glanced over to the bench where the two older men had been sitting. It was now empty. The teller approached the window from inside the store.
Maybe recently out of high school, the young teller tried to be amicable as she spoke to Kevin. “How can I help you?”
Kevin tried to be casual. “When does the bus arrive for Dallas?”
The teller smiled as she took a longing gaze at Kevin. “That bus will not get here until around three in the afternoon. You got family in Dallas?”
Kevin was aware of her interest in him but did not care to reciprocate. “No… Just going through to Oklahoma City… Three? That’s about an hour and a half from now.”
“Are you in a real hurry to leave Pine Springs?” The teller blinked her eyes in a flirting manner that begged for his attention.
Kevin shook his head as he turned to leave. “There is not much here for me anymore. I guess I will wait it out at the park.”
The teller expressed disappointment as she shrugged her shoulders. “Suit yourself.”
Kevin walked across the street back toward the Town Square. He glanced up to see a decrepit building falling into disrepair. He looked up to see the ‘Murchisons’ sign fading above the entry with the doors and windows boarded up. Sadness welled within him. As he watched, the sound of a band playing filled his mind as the building transformed into its former glory.
There appeared to be a new facade on the building, with ‘Murchison’s’ painted in bold, vivid colors, and the windows sitting clean and filled with advertisements for a grand opening. Robert Murchison stood on a stage in front of his store, along with his son Robbie on his shoulders. They waved to people as they came into his store. Kevin strolled hand in hand with Carla along the street leading to the store. There was a festive mood throughout the people gathered at the town square.
Kevin, fascinated by the festivities in the square, asked, “Why is there a celebration, Momma?”
“This is the first grocery store ever in our town.” Carla replied. “Everybody is delighted because we don’t have to drive thirty miles to the closest store anymore.”
“Cool.” Kevin said with childish awe.
“Robert has done something admirable for our town.” Carla added.
Kevin pointed toward his friend with excitement. “Look Momma! Robbie is on Mr. Murchison’s shoulders!”
Carla used that as a teaching moment. “Just remember. One of these days, Mr. Murchison will pass the store down to Robbie and let him manage it.
Kevin nearly jumped for joy. “My best friend is going to be rich?”
Carla shrugged. “It kind of looks that way.”
Kevin was envious of Robbie. “I wish I could run a grocery store.”
Carla was amused. “You would not want to continue Daddy’s shop when he gets ready to retire?”
“Daddy does not sell candy and ice cream.” Kevin replied with innocence.
Carla laughed aloud. “You have a point.”
Carla and Kevin moved on together to join in the festivities.
The new grocery store faded back into the present and the cheering crowd and band faded away into nothing. Kevin looked pained as he observed the decrepit store, and he had to avert his eyes away from the sight. They landed on a black-haired boy of about five or six years of age, dressed in white. He looked around for a parent and noticed some adults across the street at a park adjacent to the square.
Kevin pushed aside his prison bravado for a moment so not to threaten the young boy. “Don’t you think you should be across the street at the park with your mommy or daddy?”
“I’m their angel.” The little boy had compelling eyes. “They will be here soon.”
“I think you should get back over to the park and wait on them.” Kevin sensed some familiarity with the child that he could not place.
“Okay.” Angel smiled at him before he hurried off in the direction of the park.
For some unknown reason, Kevin felt compelled to follow the young boy, but only to go to the park himself. There were several children playing and Angel disappeared among them. He looked around for the little boy, but the direction he took led to a granite stone in the center of the park.
Kevin gasped when his attention focused on the stone. He approached slowly as if afraid of it. He reached out to touch it with tears pouring from his eyes. It was carved out of red granite and stood about two feet out of the ground and faced the square and Murchison’s store. He backed away from the stone, stumbling over his feet. The stone memorial read:
"In loving memory of Robert “Robbie” Murchison, Jr. Born August 30, 1993. Died October 21, 2008. This park and facilities were donated by the Murchison Family to honor the life of Robbie Murchison, brought to a tragic end the night of October 21, 2008. Robbie lived fifteen years, one month, and twenty-two days. The hearts of this town will forever remember him."
An intense storm raged that terrible night. Near a sharp curve in the highway, Kevin knelt on the ground and held Robbie’s lifeless body in his arms. A dozen police cars and emergency vehicles staged around the scene of the wreck. The lightning flashes mingled with the pulsing emergency lights. The boy screamed and cried for his best friend to come back to life.
Deputy Joseph Stevens had been the first police officer to arrive on the scene. He gazed at the Mustang that folded in half around a tree. He judged that no one else was in the car and quickly assessed the two boys.
Joseph Stevens had to shout above the wailing sirens and peals of thunder. “Let me have a look at your friend!”
Kevin cried in desperation. “I think he’s dying!”
Joseph Stevens looked at Robbie. “What happened?”
Kevin was scared. “I don’t know!”
Joseph Stevens was shocked. “Oh, my God! Is that Robbie Murchison?”
“Please help him! He’s my best friend.” Kevin pleaded in desperation.
A state trooper got out of his car and started looking over the single car wreck. Joseph Stevens started trying to pull the boys apart.
“Order a Careflight!” Joseph Stevens said to the trooper.
Although he wanted help for Robbie, Kevin refused to part from him. “Robbie!”
“Let go of him, son!” Joseph Stevens demanded.
Kevin held on in desperation. “No!”
“Can you give me a hand?” Joseph Stevens asked the approaching trooper.
The trooper could not hide his pained disgust as he knelt to help Joseph Stevens. “Who was driving the car?”
Kevin was fearful for Robbie. “I was. I don’t know what happened. One minute we were driving around the curve…then the next thing I knew… Robbie was on the ground in front of the car.”
The trooper gave Joseph Stevens an expression that told more than words what caused the wreck was driving under the influence of alcohol. The trooper managed to separate Robbie from Kevin so that Joseph Stevens could begin CPR.
The trooper would not hide his disgust with Kevin. “Are you okay? Can you stand up?”
Another trooper who had been directing traffic on the highway shouted, “The weather is too rough for Careflight! County General is sending an ambulance!”
The trooper forcibly pulled Kevin away from Robbie. “Come with me over here by the car.”
“Take care of him! He is my best friend!” Kevin cried to Joseph Stevens as they escorted him away from Robbie. “My friend…”
Kevin stumbled awkwardly as if drunk toward the trooper. Joseph Stevens gave the trooper a look that said it was too late for Robbie but tried to start CPR anyway. The trooper then began to act even rougher with Kevin and threw him toward the car.
Kevin observed the beer cans littering the ground around the Mustang and realized what the men were thinking. When he saw that Joseph Stevens was having difficulty reviving Robbie, he tried to shrug away from the trooper.
The trooper called for assistance from a third trooper when he assumed Kevin was resisting arrest. The two men wrestled Kevin to the ground. As they smashed his face into the mud, Kevin fought to keep his eyes on Joseph Stevens and Robbie. When he saw Joseph Stevens give up, Kevin cried out Robbie’s name in grief.
Joseph Stevens, exhausted from trying to save the boy, looked up to Kevin with eyes full of murderous hate. He started to get up, but the troopers from the highway wisely acted to prevent a further incident from happening. Kevin stopped struggling as the troopers worked to arrest him, closed his eyes, and cried into the mud.
Kevin stood before the monument with his hands clenched and eyes closed. Tears poured down his cheeks as he relived the last moments over and again. Angel moved up slowly, his eyes full of sorrow for the hurt that Kevin was experiencing.
“Hey, mister,” Angel asked in soft innocence. “Why are you crying?”
The sudden reappearance of the young boy astonished Kevin. “What?”
“Why are you crying?” Angel reiterated.
Kevin felt ashamed of his weakness. “Something terrible happened a long time ago to a really good friend of mine.” He again looked around for a parent of the boy.
Angel glanced at the stone. “Did he die?”
Kevin could only choke back his tears. “Yes.”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” Angel said in a mournful tone.
“Do your parents ever tell you it ’s dangerous to talk to strangers?” Kevin admonished. “Are you out here by yourself?”
“My Father is here,” Angel answered with deep reverence.
“I don’t think he would want you to hang around with a person like me.” Kevin tried to usher the little boy away. “You should go back to where you belong before you get into trouble.”
Angel spoke even softer. “Do you miss your Momma, too?”
“How do you know about her?” It puzzled Kevin why the child would ask such a question of him. “I miss her just as much as I miss Robbie.” He walked to a bench to sit down. “They were the most important people in my life until I ruined everything.”
Angel sat next to Kevin without reservation. “Do you think she misses you, too?”
Kevin grimly shook his head. “She cannot. She is dead, too. They both died because of me.”
“Was she as beautiful then?” Angel asked.
Kevin did not pick up the hint from the little boy. “When I was young…not much older than you… I used to beg her to come out on the porch. It was springtime… She loved her flower garden… There were all kinds of flowers in her garden. She had some that would bloom during other parts of the year…but spring always brought the most beautiful ones… I would pick one or two to put in her hair… She was so lovely and beautiful when she smiled… I wish I could see her just once more.”
Kevin realized that he sat alone when the memory faded away. The little boy had wandered away. He returned to his brooding state of mind and got up to walk back to the bus stop.
Kevin sat down to wait on the bus. Despair and loneliness started to sink in. He rubbed away the tears from his eyes in frustration. Then he sensed someone was watching him, and he gently pulled his hands from his eyes. Angel stood before him, holding a clump of flowers in an offering. Something grownup appeared in the compassion that showed in the young boy’s eyes as he gazed upon Kevin.
“Heal.” Angel was both compassionate and commanding together as he urged Kevin to take the flowers.
Kevin frowned in confusion as he reached for the flowers. He supposed that Angel had mispronounced the word ‘here.’ He took the flowers with caution. The little boy’s eyes seemed to sparkle. Kevin looked at the flowers and realized they were marigold blooms, his mother’s favorite. His heart finally broke.
“How do you know?” Kevin swallowed a lump in his throat and started crying as he buried his face into the flowers.
Angel seemed pleased until he heard the bus pulling into town. His smile disappeared into uncertainty. He watched Kevin stand up and put his bag over his shoulder. The young man still stared at the flowers within his hand. Angel ran across the street before the bus arrived and watched with trepidation.
Kevin looked up just as the Dallas bus slowed to stop and noticed the forlorn look in Angel’s eyes. He put the flowers into his other hand and reached into his pocket for the ticket. The bus pulled between the two, and he could no longer see the little boy before he stepped up onto the bus.
Angel glanced down in disappointment when the bus separated him from view. He bit his lip when it appeared Kevin stepped onto the bus. A few minutes later, when the bus departed, he felt heartbroken when it appeared the young man had left on the bus. He turned to walk away.
Kevin stepped out of the Texaco with a soda in hand and called out to the little boy. “Hey, kid!” He wondered if he was making the right decision.
Angel jumped for joy. “You’re staying?”
Kevin still held the flowers as he moved toward Angel. He knelt so that he could see the little boy eye to eye. Angel was still crying, but he seemed to have found some joy within the moment.
Kevin gave Angel the soda and ruffled his hair. “Thank you for letting me know that there is at least one trustworthy person still in this town.”
Angel was exuberant. “So, you’re staying?”
Kevin stood up and gazed off in the direction of his home. “For a day or two… I owe it to Momma.”
Angel shouted for joy and then took off, running toward the other children in the park. Kevin took in a deep breath and started walking away from the bus stop.
Paul was sitting on the porch swing and seemed dejected and broken from life. He stared at the flower garden, which was overgrown with weeds. Carla had worked so hard to keep the garden and the yard in order. He felt a certain sense of guilt because he let him leave. He got up to enter the house when he heard footsteps approaching on the sidewalk.
Paul turned and approached the railing when he noticed Kevin approaching the gate. A glimmer of hope made his heartbeat dangerously fast. His son paused at the gate, still unsure of what decision to make. Both men were silent and motionless for a moment, both unsure.
At last, Kevin made the first move into the yard. Paul slowly walked down the steps. The young man stopped in the middle of the yard and lowered his bag to the ground. He scanned around the yard in a mixture of dismay and melancholy.
“I am sorry that I could not take care of it as well as your mother,” Paul apologized.
Kevin offered a defensive explanation with an awkward feeling. “I thought I might come and make the yard attractive again for Momma before I went to Oklahoma.”
Paul was cautious with his hope. “You can do that. It’s kind of late to begin today…we can start on it together in the morning.”
Kevin was ready for a rest. “Okay…but I’m not staying long.”
“That’s okay, Kevin.” Paul picked up Kevin’s bag as he led the way toward the house.
Kevin gave a wistful glimpse at the garden as he followed Paul. “Momma always loved her flowerbeds.”
Paul stepped up on the porch and opened the door for Kevin. “It was not the flowerbeds that she loved so much. It was the fact that she found something that she could do with one of her boys joyfully. She loved spending time with you when the two of you would plant something together. That is why she loved her garden so much. Go on in, and I will get you something to eat. You look beat.”
Kevin stepped inside the house, and Paul closed both doors behind them.
Continue reading Kevin's Homecoming - Chapter 4
- Kevin's Homecoming - Chapter 4
Kevin made the decision to stay home long enough to clean up Clara's garden. Paul remains at a distance, but remains hopeful they can reconcile the past. His older brother Mark is not as forgiving and bitterly demands Kevin move on and not disrupt th